Last week I posted on Instagram asking what people would like to know more about with my life in Timor-Leste. One reply — the first reply — asked about Felix, my boyfriend. “I’m nosy and I love love!” the asker wrote. Same.
I feel a bit shy with this one; I don’t quite know what’s too boring or too personal to share. But here are my answers to the questions I’d want to know from another couple.
How did you meet?
Felix and I actually met on my very first trip to Timor-Leste — a two-week-long work trip I took in October 2016 with Oaktree, a youth-run anti-poverty organisation that funds a project in Timor-Leste through the local organisation Ba Futuru. With a couple of filmmakers, I tagged along on the annual monitoring and evaluation trip. One evening, one of our group got an SMS on his Timor SIM from a random number saying come to Esplanada tonight, there’s live music. I was tired, but they wanted to go, so we all headed to the pub and stood uncertainly at the top of the stairs, still not clear who had summoned us, until a bespectacled Timorese guy came up and said the name of my friend who received the message. That was Felix.
We sat with him and his friends for a while and had a drink, but I was so grouchy I didn’t say anything (Felix later told me he thought I was listening intently to what he had to say), and we didn’t stay long. I knew one of my friends had added him on Facebook, so a couple of months later, when I was preparing to move to Timor-Leste, I looked Felix up and added him. A message arrived: Hey, do you live in Dili now? Want to get a drink?.
How did it go from friends to romance?
I added this in after writing this whole post because I think it’s really funny. We both arrived at that drink assuming we were having a friendly catch-up; I brought Laura along; I was so chuffed to have two friends in Dili in just two weeks of living there; we had a fun, friendly, accidentally boozy evening (I switched quickly from drinking gin and tonics after realising the far-more-exciting margaritas were in fact that same price, failing to realise they were at least twice the potency).
The Portuguese influence here has people regularly kiss-kissing hello on either cheek, which is something I’d actually never done before I arrived here. Gentleman Felix dropped me home after the drink and leaned in for a polite, foreigner cheek kiss. Unprepared, bewildered and half-drunk, I mis-times the cheek order, went the same way as he did, and accidentally hit his mouth and gave him a bit of a pash, then immediately dashed, giggling, inside.
A couple of days later we had a chat and I clarified I wasn’t looking to date anyone and he was very understanding and on-board. We kept hanging out — I still only had two friends in Dili — and over the course of a couple of months feelings changed.
Why did you decide to move in together?
Felix and I moved in together in March this year — almost a year exactly to the day since that first drink (a whole separate question is when we each think our anniversary is: according to me it’s 31 July, the night I actually asked Felix to be my capital-B boyfriend; he thinks it’s 17 March, the night we had that drink and he decided to pursue me; we’ve sort-of agreed on a date in mid-June we had where we had a very intimate chat over dinner and later realised oh actually this thing’s a bit serious now isn’t it, but we’re both much more committed to our own dates than that one).
So we’d been dating for between six and 11 months when we moved in together — I think that’s really quick! We had a few reasons: his house was better than mine and cheaper, and one of their housemates had just left (giving us the same number of bathroom- and rent-sharers and a spare room for visitors for less rent per month) — but mainly, it was because as I returned to Dili from my Christmas trip last year I knew my AVID assignment was falling apart around me and my future in Timor-Leste was uncertain and un-funded. This thing with Felix seemed pretty good, but neither of us were certain of just how serious it was, and just how much it would influence our plans. So, we decided to test it, by moving in together and intensifying everything.
And it was pretty intense! We had a tricky, bicker-y couple of months settling in but very very quickly realised how committed we both were to the relationship and how unphased we were by difficulties in the grand scheme of being together. We lived together for nine months — Felix will have left for Australia by the time I return from this Christmas trip — and it was a total joy.
Why is Felix going to Melbourne? Why are you not?
Good question! I think I’ve been vague about this. Felix won a scholarship to do a master’s degree in Australia and will head off for two years in Melbourne in the first week of January.
I don’t yet feel ready to leave Timor-Leste yet — I want to do some more freelance pitching without having a work contract to fill up my time, I want to go backpacking in Indonesia, and because we met so early on in my time here I like the thought of living here without Felix here to help me — and because I lived in Melbourne before I came to Timor-Leste I want the same for Felix, too. We’ll have four months apart before he holidays in Perth at Easter; I’ll visit him for two weeks over his birthday in May, and then we’ll make a call about whether I spend a bit more time in Perth (I’m extremely homesick at the moment, and I don’t want to move to Melbourne in winter), or go straight there. In 2020 I’ll be in Melbourne for the whole year.
What’s it like dating cross-culturally?
I was asked this fairly on in our relationship and it’s a question I really struggle with, because you can’t separate my Australian-ness from who I am overall, or Felix’s Timorese-ness from who he is as a whole person. He’s super laidback, incredibly disorganised, and gives optimistic “seven-ish” times for when he’ll be home much later — but is he like that because he’s Timorese, because he’s a man, because of his personality, because of his upbringing, or a complicated stew of all of it? Am I comparatively uptight because I’m a malae, foreigner, or is that just what I’m like?
For the most part it’s the same as dating anyone else — we get on well, we disagree about some things, we have similar values and were raised close to our families, our education is comparable, we use similar pop culture references and for the most part relatable childhood memories, and the similarities seem more than the differences. Us being from different backgrounds has perhaps made some problems for us — Felix, as the eldest son, has obligations to his family that I don’t understand; I’m scared to ask his mother about grandchildren because I don’t know if they’ll need to be baptised Catholic; one time I tried to cook white rice and I totally screwed it up and Felix got annoyed with me — but again, it’s not as clear-cut as saying “this happened because he is Timorese”, or “your Australian-ness made this problem”; we are, of course, a product of our genes and our upbringing, so it’s tricky to single out cross-cultural causes of conflict (I think I’d annoy any partner for stuffing up their favourite food, for example).
An addition here! I’m very aware of the fact that my brown boyfriend is about to move to white supremacist Australia and it’d be tone-deaf and limited of me to think our different skin colours will be FINE and cause no problems there (it took a Fijian friend to point out to me how few brown people there are in my old Melbourne suburb, Fitzroy North, for example — I know there’s a lot I can’t see). But right now, we’re in his country, where most people look like him and fewer people look like me, and it’ll be interesting to see if this answer changes over the next few years.
Breathe, Felix; that is me being fretful and non-Catholic and thinking waaaay ahead.
Have you met each others’ families?
Yep! Felix’s parents and siblings live round the corner from us in Dili, and both my mum and younger sister have come to visit me this year (this is what that spare room’s for!). Felix will meet the whole Raynor family at Easter when he visits, and I’ve technically met about one hundred Maia cousins at the family wedding I went to a few months back.
What do you like about him?
Felix is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, most positive, most earnest and most respectful people I have ever met. He remembers names, is more interested in what people like than what they do and has time, energy, and endless favours for everyone. When he uses my car he backs it back into the compound so I don’t have to reverse out the next time I drive. When we’re out for dinner and sharing food he’ll order something meat-less so I can try both. He goes to the airport at least once a week to meet or farewell every travelling friend. He’s an excellent cook, a terrible dishwasher, and will do every kitchen task I hate — grating cheese, chopping mangoes, grinding spices, peeling ginger – without complaint. He’s got a terrible, goofy sense of humour and the easiest, bubbliest laugh. He makes me happy every day.
A quick post-script: like I do with every post that mentions Felix, I ran this one by him and made him read all 1,570 words of it before I pressed post. He said the above paragraph made him blush and it was fine to publish.